There aren’t many games as unusual as Mugen Souls Z. Its main character is a young goddess who carries around a coffin, not for any reason in particular, just because the writers needed some kind of container and that seemed to make sense. That’s not the weirdest thing that you’ll see either. Charged with “cuteness” and a little too risqué for its own good, this is a game that’ll leave you feeling a little creepy. Earning the Platinum may get you put on some sort of list.
Starting the game is something of a chore. It follows on directly from Mugen Souls, the first title in the franchise, and the ruler of the universe, Lady Chou-Chou, is tired of the little piece of space that she spent her last adventure obtaining. She decides to take over twelve more planets, but her plan quickly unravels when she’s accidentally transformed into a powerless chibi version of herself. Yes, this is the actual plot. More surprising, it takes up to two hours to get to the basic gameplay. This Metal Gear-busting figure includes countless cutscenes, a few tutorials, and a music video, but it’s by no means the end of your learning experience. You’ll keep being introduced to new ideas for a long time.
This is funny, because the mechanics themselves are actually fairly simple to grasp. The battle system is standard, although still enjoyable, and most of it is controlled via self-explanatory menus. The vast tutorials are presented almost as a parody of other JRPGs, but as is so often with titles of this type, the developer falls into the trap of doing exactly what it's satirising. “Look at us,” the company screams, “forcing you to read this 15 page how-to on changing underwear – isn’t that so JRPG?” Yes, changing underwear. Let’s build up to that one.
There’s a whole host of characters to learn about, and it happens a little too quickly to make sense. This is the biggest problem with the game's plot. It devotes pages of dialogue to grunts and moans, to little reactions or anime rants, but when something of substance comes along, it’s dealt with as quickly as possible. The game is based around Moe – the Japanese fad for liking cuteness, usually in women – and boy does it try to tick that box as often as it can. Every female character lives up to the Saturday Morning Anime stereotype, and it sounds like they were voiced by the same cast as well.
It’s hard to judge the quality of the dub when it comes to something like this. The acting is supposed to be over the top, just like the vast majority of consumer anime. Purists will complain that it’s not as good as the Japanese voice over, and that’s probably true, but so long as you go in expecting something silly, you’ll get exactly that. If you can’t stick the quality of the writing or acting, you may as well give up – after all, most of what you’ll be doing is sitting and listening.
When you’re not wondering how long it’ll be until the main characters just stop talking, you’ll be exploring or fighting. There are a number of worlds to discover, each specifically designed and with quite a bit to see. There’s nothing on the scale of some of the major RPGs, but with puzzles and loot to find all the same. These areas are well designed, but not especially striking visually, and the frame rate will drop so badly while you're walking around that it'll sometimes hurt your eyes.
Battles are vaguely tactical, with some nice ideas added to prevent things from getting stale. You move around your party, positioning them for maximum damage. Each arena has a set of crystals, which, when activated, grant boosts or have negative repercussions. These allow for a certain level of cleverness on the player’s part, meaning that you can position yourself in such a way to literally cut damage in half while also boosting your own magic power – it’s simple but effective. Grinding is still a pain if you choose to do it, but a basic playthrough probably won’t become too dull.
There’s another system on top of this one, and that’s where things begin to get a little creepy. Your main character can switch “jobs” – or fetishes – on the fly, and the goal of this is to convince monsters to like you. These fetishes range from Graceful and Hyper to Sadist and Masochist, and when you’re dressed as that particular role, that’s how your protagonist will act. The more monsters that you convince to like you, the more powerful your ultimate attacks will become. It’s a lot of effort, and not one that feels like it pays off, especially when you have to sit and watch as your player character leans over, panties showing, and utters lines like “Do you like my behind?” and “I’m so sexy."
The entire cast is left intentionally ageless – the game probably wouldn’t have got released otherwise. They speak, look, and act like they’re no older than 13 or 14, with occasional pendulous breasts added onto pre-pubescent bodies in an attempt to hide the obvious. It plays into the whole Moe thing – the appearance of being cute and youthful – but when you’re talking fictional characters that are beyond just acting out that trend, it’s hard to suspend your belief. These aren’t adults pretending to be children like some Japanese women might in real life – nowhere in the game does it imply that, and often it’s quite the opposite – but fictional gods, therefore inherently without age and fair game.
If for some reason you’re not convinced of how weird this is, consider that a bathing minigame had to be removed before the release could be rated. Look that one up on YouTube if you fancy a culture shock.
This on-the-line sexuality goes into every system in the game. You can dress up your characters to affect stats, with everything from cheerleader uniforms to sexy ninjas on offer. The first piece of armour that you’ll unlock is underwear, and you’ll be able to accrue others as you play. Even the dialogue is all too often a cause for concern, with one older gentleman accused of “liking little girls". Alas, it’s alright, because these are gods and heroes and demons – definitely not children.
If this doesn’t bother you, and you enjoy the premise enough to keep playing, there’s a lot of extra content on offer. You can level up your characters insanely high, and there’s no cap on damage, so a single move can hit for loads of HP. If you love grinding – experience points, we should clarify – then look no further.
Mugen Souls Z is, on the surface, a shallow but agreeable JRPG that hides a deeper, heavier set of systems for genre fans that care to search for them. It also has a darker side, one that goes beyond merely being a little bit naughty. Many titles have messed around with morality systems – but simply picking up this package is a grey choice in itself.